The Fly (1986)

Directed by David Cronenberg

Produced by Stuart Cornfeld

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo

The Fly (1986)

Mel Brooks and David Cronenberg. Now there's two names you'd be unlikely to see mentioned in the same sentence. But it's not as bizarre a collaboration as you'd initially assume, as Brooks had already proven his ability to work with maverick talents when he produced David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" (1980). Under the Brooksfilms wing, Canadian director Cronenberg was drafted in to helm a rather revisionist remake of Kurt Neumann's 1958 original for the eighties horror set. But who were to be David Hedison and Patricia Owens updated replacements? Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis would have been anybody (of the era's) last guess. Ironic then that, even now, the film has gone on to become something of a cult classic, as well as a benchmark of the disturbing extremes that eighties horror could stretch itself to. In a scattershot year for the genre, "The Fly" sits comfortably with "Anguish", "From Beyond", "Gothic", "The Hitcher", "Manhunter" and "Nomads" as one of the best that 1986 had to offer.

Brilliant scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum) crosses swords with science magazine journalist Veronica Quaife (Davis) at a Bartok Industries science fair. Charming her with his eccentric manner, he disarmingly convinces her that he is the only intellect present that is onto a discovery that will "change the world as we know it". Skeptical at first, Veronica agrees to accompany him to his warehouse workshop where she discovers that his boast is no mere flight of fancy. Brundle has unlocked the key to teleportation, albeit with a couple of hiccups. As his research progresses, he enlists her to document his progress through to its inevitable success. On the sidelines, her editor and former boyfriend Stathis Boran (Getz), caves in under his own possessiveness, fuelling his own jealous rage. Unable to see Ronnie happy with another man, he sabotages her work every step of the way.

But that's just the beginning for poor Ronnie as, on the evening of Brundle's successful teleportation of a living baboon, she decides to finalise her ties with Boran so as to involve herself more directly with Brundle. Left to his own devices (and in typically male fashion), Seth drinks himself into jealousy and commits a fatal flaw of judgement. He teleports himself as his own human guinea pig, the system neither fully tested, nor thoroughly checked. At first invigorated by his experience, his experiment soon gives way to horror once he discovers that he was not alone in the telepod. The tiny insect form of a common house-fly was present with him, his invention bonding them at a molecular level. At first terrified by the implications, Seth quickly warms to the idea of becoming his own species. It then becomes a nightmare journey for veronica as she is torn between her love for Brundle, and the realisation that the corruption of his genius has given way to a terrifying new insanity.

For what it's worth, Cronenberg's vision of "The Fly" is not a happy one, so don't go into it expecting a rollercoaster ride of gross-out FX, a shallow back story and cardboard cut-out performances. It's a film that actually takes some stamina to get through, and left this poor bugger just as depressed at its denouement today as it did when I first saw it back in '86. Thanks to Charles Edward Pogue's fine script, Davis' character becomes the central axis of the plot, becoming one of the most put upon heroine's in commercial screen history. If you don't feel a hint of sympathy for her plight throughout the course of the story, then you're heartless enough not to be watching the film at all. By the savagely grotesque climax, Veronica has been put through an emotional wringer the size of the Grand Canyon. It's a tortuously tough journey to watch, my friends.

Which is undoubtedly what sets "The Fly" apart from many of its contemporaries. The strength of Pogue's characters, coupled with the depths of the performances, lend an emotional resonance that elevates the film well above standard genre fare. Had the corruption of Brundle's physical being been transposed to the effects of a terminal disease, like HIV or cancer, the film still would have retained its power. Placing the plot-line within a fantasy context somehow simply succeeds in making the suffering displayed a far more disturbing aspect. Goldblum's uttering of the film's signature line, "help me, please help me", brought an all mighty lump to my throat I can tell you.

Howard Shore's (a Cronenberg favourite) strong score didn't help matters any either. Chris Walas' amazing FX work is disturbing in the extreme also, degenerating to a level of bodily corruption virtually unseen outside of Carpenter's "The Thing". An unmitigated classic of the genre thanks solely to Cronenberg's mature approach to his subject matter, but not a favourite of this reviewer's by any stretch. While I'm not about to deny its place in horror film history, it is a film I find extremely disturbing on an emotional level and find it exceptionally hard to look past the plight of the protagonists to engage it as an "effects showcase", as it clearly is not such an animal. Hence the motivation behind the fifteen year gap in viewings…

But on to the nitty gritty…Fox Home Entertainment's disc. How does Cronenberg's unsettling remake look in its DVD incarnation? Exceptionally good! Letterboxed at its original theatrical ratio and anamorphically enhanced, the image is crisp, bright and colourful. Detail levels are exceptionally good (with this film, that can lead to getting more than you bargained for though) and the colour palette seems true to the way I remember things theatrically. The print is flawless (no artefacts!) and the only real complaint one can level at the disc is a moderate amount of aliasing (shimmer) going on throughout. Otherwise, it's a pretty damn fine looking transfer! Audio is a new Dolby 5.1 remix of the original 4 channel Dolby stereo theatrical mix which, although never really drawing attention to itself, provides some nice ambience and some nifty surround effects (listen out for Brundefly doing the rounds of your lounge room as he scales the walls!).

There's some cursory, though brief, extras included in the form of the Theatrical trailer ("Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!") and a short EPK behind the scenes featurette that runs all of 6:33m. There's also some interview soundbites included, but the largest part of these are made redundant by being little more than isolated versions of the snippets contained in the featurette, although these run to just shy of eight minutes. All in all, an rather nice presentation of a film I find remarkably disturbing albeit with a few more extras than the trailer only R1 edition.

International specifications: PAL format disc; Language options in English Dolby 5.1 only; Subtitle options in Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish & English for the Hearing Impaired.

*Also available R1 through Fox Home Entertainment minus the featurette & interview clips

Review by Mike Thomason

Released by Fox Home Entertainment
Classified R (18+) - Region 4 (PAL)
Running time - 96m
Ratio - Widescreen 1.85 (Anamorphic)
Audio - Dolby digital 5.1
Extras :
Behind the Scenes featurette, Interview soundbites, Theatrical trailer

© 2001, Icon In Black Media